Froman: Withdrawing from trade agreements not the answer

Michael Froman. File photo.

Compelling economic and strategic arguments exist for keeping agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership, former U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Thursday.

“If we care about wages and wage inequality, we should also care about expanding exports,” Froman said .

A 1985 graduate of Princeton University, Froman was the speaker for a question and answer session on the States and Eurpoean Union trade relations sponsored by the European Union Program at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.

Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative under President Barack Obama from June 2013 to January 2017, worked to open global markets for U.S. goods and services, enforce America’s rights in the global trading system and foster development through trade. Key initiatives under his leadership included the conclusion of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement in the Asia Pacific and negotiations toward a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union; the negotiation of agreements on trade facilitation, agriculture, information technology products, services and environmental goods at the World Trade Organization; the monitoring and enforcement of U.S. trade rights, and the passage of the Trade Promotion Authority, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act. He previously served as assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, where he was responsible for coordinating policy on international trade and finance, energy security and climate change and development and democracy issues.

The Trans Pacific Partnership was about displaying American leadership and commitment, Froman told the audience at the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs Thursday evening. The agreement, signed between twelve countries, advocated for regulating labor standards, outlining the rights of digital economies, and increasing American-made exports, among other aims.

“[The Trans-Pacific Partnership] was the most ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard trade agreement to ever be negotiated,” Froman said.

The partnership was opposed by both candidates during the presidential election, and was criticized for an alleged lack of transparency during the negotiation process. Froman said that while he was committed to maintaining transparency for the American public, if asked to choose between transparency and negotiating the best deal for the United States, he would pick the latter.

“We managed to build a bipartisan consensus on trade,” Froman said of the partnership’s opposition. “It became nearly impossible to have a fact-based discussion on trade [during the election].”

Trade has since become the vessel into which American citizens have poured their economic grievances, Froman said. Trump, whose economic platform is against globalization, withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership earlier this year in January.

“It’s important not to conflate globalization with trade agreements,” Froman said. “If the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] doesn’t move forward, then all those reforms sit on a shelf, and  instead we’re left with the existing treaties — and there are about three thousand existing treaties — that have much weaker standards.”

In the future, Froman hopes to further policy action in the area of education. He said the government often fails to equip young people or struggling communities with the skills they need to live in a rapidly changing economy. He said he wants to implement a long-term educational process to help citizens better understand trade policy.

“The answer does not lie in building walls or raising barriers or withdrawing from trade agreements,” he said.

The United States needs treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to create well-paying jobs and raise economic standards throughout the world, Froman said.

“We live in a global economy,” he said. “People can complain or they can do stuff, and I am certainly a firm believer in doing stuff.”


  1. More neo-liberal claptrap. Comparative advantage, drilled into his head in first year of college econ 101, and never a thought to challenge the assumptions behind it. Yes, bigger pie, but who gets it. Clearly he is a winner. What about the losers? Froman : “who cares, I got mine.” If you keep having to ask yourself why Trump, just think Froman.

    1. First and foremost, he is not arguing from or for the point of comparative advantage. Nevertheless, I think the term you are looking for is absolute advantage, which however, serves no relevance to refute the argument here. But of course, maybe if you paid attention in econ 101, it would have made you, for the very least, a good guesser. Trump is far more likely to make bias, concealed decisions in opaque environments that does more to benefit ‘himself’ than anyone else.

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